Summary of an article from The Guardian, 12 October, 2012

News-HMP-BrixtonAt the Detention Advice Service (DAS) 20th Anniversary conference on September 17, Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) described the government’s immigration policy as “super-selective.”

In his speech, Whiteman explained that this new policy referred to foreign national prisoners who the government is defining as a specific category to be deported.

The term, previously used by then immigration minister Damian Green during a Conservative think-tank Policy Exchange, defines foreign national prisoners as a homogenous group to be deported without any investigations of the specific circumstances of individual prisoners.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, is questioning this policy on behalf of the 10, 861 foreign nationals currently in UK prisons.

These prisoners originate from 156 countries with over half are from Jamaica, Nigeria, Poland, Ireland, Pakistan, Romania, Lithuania, India, Vietnam and Somalia.

The Prison Reform Trust reports that they generally not violent offenders, with 46% of foreign national women incarcerated for drug offences and 16% for fraud and forgery.

According female prison welfare project Hibiscus, 50 percent of these women have children under the age of 18.

At the DAS conference, Martin Kettle, policy lead on foreign national prisoners at the HM Inspectorate of Prisons cited the results of a survey conducted on prisoners’ perceptions of life in UK prisons.

Out of the 6102 respondents, approximately 12 per cent were foreign nationals.

When asked if they knew they were going to be incarcerated, 81 per cent of British nationals affirmed their knowledge while 66% of foreign nationals did not know they would be going to prison.

While 75% of British nationals felt safe during their first night in prison, only 69% of foreign nationals experienced the same security.

Kettle also explained what he called the ‘damage of uncertainty’ experienced by foreign national prisoners.

He said, “If you walk into an immigration removal centre you can feel it in the air.”

The options of foreign national prisoners have been chipped away following what was considered a crisis in 2006 when 1,013 of them were released rather than deported.

The crisis was wholly that of home secretary Charles Clark who left office as a result of heavy criticism following the releases.

Following this ‘crisis,’ the UK Borders Act 2007 came into effect.

This Act mandates that non-EEA nationals, even those granted indefinite leave, who receive a sentence of 12 months or longer will be automatically deported without regard for individual circumstances.

In July 2012 the government altered deportation rules to make it even more difficult for foreign national prisoners to appeal their deportation on the grounds of the European Conventions on Human Rights Article 8, which focuses upon family and private life.

Now appeals will be successful only “in exceptional circumstances that the public interest in deportation is outweighed.”

A November 2011 report from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reveals that between February 2010 and January 2011 approximately 33 per cent of foreign nationals appealing deportation on the grounds of family and private life had their expulsions commuted.

During this same time period 5,235 foreign national prisoners were deported.

Such statistics refute Conservative MP for Dover and Deal Charlie Elphicke’s contention that article 8 is overused within deportation appeals.

He has said, “it’s shameful that child killers and rapists can abuse human rights laws to escape deportation,” but given 2011 report, foreign nationals, whether they are violent or not, are not being accorded the defence of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In April 2013, foreign national prisoners will be further restricted in their legal appeals.

With the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, foreign nationals who wish to secure legal help to fight their deportations will only be able to do so if they can pay for a solicitor, despite the intricacies of the legal process and the difficulties of navigating English language documentation.

DAS director Nigel Caleb has spoken out against this new law saying,

“It is not right to subject someone to a serious sanction of deportation without giving them the means to understand the situation and to assert the rights provided for them by law.”

Steve Symonds of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association argued at the DAS conference that Home Office staff, as a result of public criticism in 2006, “cannot countenance the idea that they release someone.”

In 90 per cent of foreign national releases, the court decides rather than the Home Office.

Symonds called automatic detention “a stupid policy position which does not give any more power to deport anybody, but which prevents sensible consideration of the circumstances of every individual rather than just the homogenous mass.”

While public opinion might be assuaged by these more restrictive policies, foreign national prisoners will become more firmly entrenched “pariahs.”